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  • Writer's pictureCentre for Association Management

What's the Secret to Becoming a Leader? Stop Being a Boss.

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Written by Peter Daisyme | Co-founder of Hostt

Although the difference between managers and leaders appears almost nitpicky at face value, it’s actually quite distinct. The former control the direction of progress through existing and emerging processes; the latter provide vision and inspiration without getting in the trenches. Think of leaders as premium fuel and managers as an efficient engine: Both are necessary to get a sports car from one destination to another. That distinction, however, is darn hard to implement in most companies.

The basic issue is that when strong managers rise to leadership levels, they're expected to change their way of doing things. But just because they boast a C-suite title doesn’t mean they can let go of their “let’s all roll up our sleeves and dig in” attitude. In fact, many lean on old patterns of managerial behavior, which destroy their ability to adjust. Yet modern leaders must be willing to bury the management habits they honed and become coaches instead.

As Robert Glazer, CEO and founder of Acceleration Partners, noted in Entrepreneur: “Leading a productive team entails letting go of daily operations to focus on setting a clear strategy and vision -- the ‘why’ and ‘what’ -- and getting comfortable leaving your team to manage the ‘how.’”

Glazer added that millennials, set to become the largest cohort of U.S. workers by 2019, according to Pew Research Center, are particularly keyed in to how they’re being led from above. Heavy-handedness isn’t appreciated, but motivation is.

The rewards for solid leadership aren’t just anecdotal: Data examined by the Harvard Business Review showed a correlation between exceptional leaders and exceptional workers. In other words, the faster leaders stop managing and focus on leading, the stronger the likelihood of stellar corporate performance. If you yourself are a new leader, such seemingly small actions can help you ditch some of your manager-focused ways:

1. Stop micromanaging.

Find yourself wanting to jump into the fray every time your team does something amiss? Remind yourself that leaders who meddle are just micromanaging their employees to death. The more time you spend distrusting people’s motives and movements, the less energy you can spend on your role as a high-level leader.

Is intervention among the ranks occasionally warranted? Yes, but not all the time. If you find yourself putting out fires for your teammates, you may have one of two problems. First, you might be stuck in a management mentality, in which case you’d be wise to wean yourself from those toxic tendencies. On the other hand, you may have workers who are not up to the tasks at hand; that scenario necessitates a rearrangement of workloads, or even the addition of new faces and perspectives.

“I used to be a micromanager, and I’m someone who’s always had high expectations for myself and anybody who works with me,” Rick Nuckols, the president of Container Technology, wrote on his company website page. After changing his ways, he took a different approach: “I always try to be fair and open about what’s going on and where we’re going and how. I try to give them the tools they need to succeed. We try to create an environment where they treat it like it’s their own business. Making people feel appreciated is so important.”

2. Delegate, giving your people permission to succeed -- and fail.

Having trouble delegating? You’ll never get far in your role as a leader if you hoard the major responsibilities for yourself. Imagine you’re jogging along a path at your local park: Not only will you stumble and potentially fall if you're carrying a lot of luggage, but you also won't move very efficiently. Instead, evaluate which responsibilities you should continue to shoulder, and delegate the rest to other team members.

Transitioning from being an ear-to-the-ground manager to an effective leader isn’t possible if you can’t tell others what to do and then allow them to finish the job their way. To help you feel more comfortable doing that, try providing context to your team members about how their role fits into the big picture. Remember that teammates may not take the routes you would to achieve results -- and that that’s OK. If they make missteps, be a leader they can come to for suggestions rather than reprimands. Not only will you get more done, but your employees will get a boost of self-esteem and empowerment.

James Philip, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, wrote on Medium about how he'd switched from doing it all himself to holding on to only the things he did best and letting others take the reins: “As I built my businesses, I learned to delegate things, knowing the person was going to screw it up," Philip wrote. "But this allowed them to grow. They screwed up; we figured out what to do better next time; and progress was made. What happens is, a couple years later, they are not making mistakes anymore and now your team ‘does it right without you having to do it.’”

3. Make choices that dovetail with your vision.

Wishy-washy head honchos don’t hold their positions very long. However, those who maintain strong visions they can articulate to their teams do. In fact, every decision you make should keep the bigger picture for you and your company in mind. Your employees will know immediately if you’re walking your talk.

Steve Griggs, the founder and CEO of Steve Griggs Design, found that growth came with taking faster and more decisive actions. “Start by evaluating ‘What's the worst that can happen?’ and ‘What's my ultimate desired outcome?’” he wrote on Business Insider. Then, make a decision and sink or swim with the ship … At least you made a decision. Being an entrepreneur means you’re a leader and no one wants to see the leader be wishy-washy.”

Help yourself become more attuned to choosing paths based on vision by following your decisions to the final results; think of it as being like viewing a movie’s beginning, middle and end simultaneously. Does the outcome fit with your vision? If so, it’s probably the right choice. If not, you’ll need to re-evaluate your decision-making tendencies so they tie to your mission before you continue down the next path.

Managers are important people in companies, but their jobs, in most cases, shouldn’t have too much overlap with those in the leadership ranks. Become a savvier leader by allowing your managerial staff to do their jobs so you can focus your attention on the bigger picture.

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